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Written by corres2

Shane Conlan watches the NFL Draft unfold from his Frewsburg home on April 28, 1987. Conlan, who was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the eighth overall pick in the first round, is one of 12 football players from Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties to play in the NFL.
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The headline on the front page of Wednesday’s Post-Journal sports section read: “Draft To Include Fountains, Slot Machines and A Ferris Wheel.”

That’s what happens when the NFL selection show, which begins tonight, just happens to be in Las Vegas.

It was a far, far different enterprise exactly 35 years ago today.

For it was on April 28, 1987 that I found myself sitting on a couch in Dan and Kay Conlan’s basement, my eyes fixed on a TV that was tuned in to ESPN.

Shane Conlan, Dan and Kay’s son, was the reason that family, friends and media descended on their Frewsburg home in the first place.

Jamestown’s Jim McCusker played seven seasons in the NFL.
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After all, he was expected to be among the first players selected in the first round.

That didn’t mean that the All-American linebacker’s wait was any less agonizing.

The first two picks were expected — quarterback Vinny Testaverde, the Heisman Trophy winner from Miami, and linebacker Cornelius Bennett from Alabama.

The five players selected after that were running back Alonzo Highsmith; running back Brent Fullwood; linebacker Mike Junkin; quarterback Kelly Stouffer and defensive end Reggie Rogers.

Not exactly names destined for Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Randolph’s Marv Hubbard played 10 seasons in the NFL.

What made those five announcements by then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle even more puzzling was that Trey Bauer — Shane’s friend, Penn State teammate and the guy sitting next to me on the couch — told me as Cleveland was on the clock that he knew, without question, who the Browns were going to take with the fifth pick.

His name?

Shane Conlan.

Bauer said he knew that to be true because Marty Schottenheimer, then Cleveland’s head coach, told him so when Shane worked out for the Browns in advance of the draft.

Plans apparently changed.

Pine Valley’s Bruce and Bill Bergey both made it to the NFL.
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Cleveland, instead, selected Junkin, a kid from Duke, who would play all of 20 games in the NFL. By comparison, Shane, who went to Buffalo at No. 8, suited up for 120 games during a nine-year career that also included three seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams; was the 1987 Defensive Rookie of the Year and a three-time Pro Bowl selection; and played in three Super Bowls.

The swing and miss by the Browns’ brass just goes to show how difficult the annual draft can be and a sobering reminder of the long odds a player has of even playing in the NFL at all. To confirm that, I did a little online research.

Consider these numbers from a 2021 story by Aaron Shields on Casino.org:

“According to a 2020 survey by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the chances of making it all the way through the system from high school football to fully-fledged professional are slim at best.

“Interestingly, the closer you get, the harder it is to make that final leap to the ‘big leagues.’

Salamanca’s Chuck Crist played seven seasons in the NFL.
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“The overall probability of high school players going on to compete in illustrious college football was just 7.3 percent — with 73,712 NCAA participants estimated to make the grade from 1,006,013 high schoolers.

“While those that made the cut for college football then stood just a 1.6 percent chance of going from the NCAA to a major pro — highlighted by the fact that of around 16,380 players eligible for the draft, from 73,712 college ballers, only 254 were likely to be picked.

“While, according to other sources such as the NFL Players Association, some rate the odds of ultimate success as even smaller — and even as little as a 0.2 percent shot for any player to make it all the way to the NFL.”

With that information, it makes it even more remarkable how Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties have fared in having native sons get to the NFL. In addition to Conlan, they include (with their high schools in parentheses): Bill and Bruce Bergey (Pine Valley), Jim McCusker (Jamestown), Marv Hubbard (Randolph), Chuck Crist (Salamanca), Dave Graf (Dunkirk), Jehuu Caulcrick (Clymer), Stephen Carlson (Jamestown), Josh Roth (Pine Valley), Chad Bartoszek (Salamanca) and Gerald Carlson (Randolph).

Bill Bergey was an All-Pro linebacker with Philadelphia, and Bruce, a defensive end, played with Kansas City and Houston; McCusker, an offensive lineman, won a championship with the Eagles in 1960, and also spent time with the Chicago Cardinals, the Browns and the New York Jets; Hubbard, was a running back with the Oakland Raiders; Crist was a defensive back with the New York Giants, New Orleans and San Francisco; Graf was a linebacker with the Browns and Washington; Caulcrick was a fullback, who played with the Bills in 2010 after finding himself in the training camps of the Jets, San Francisco and Tampa Bay; Stephen Carlson, now an unrestricted free agent tight end, played three seasons with the Browns; Roth, an H-back, was on the practice squads of the Bills and Chiefs; Bartoszek, a tight end, spent two summers in Indianapolis’ training camp; and Gerald Carlson, a kicker, was given a training camp look by the Bills.

Dunkirk’s Dave Graf played six seasons in the NFL.
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By my count, that’s an even dozen from our little corner of the world.

Upon further review, I like those odds.

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